Thursday, 07 July 2022

Pub garden turned into play area

Pub garden turned into play area

A MOTHER has launched an outdoor classroom for pre-school children in the garden of a pub.

Kat Wickstead came up with the idea of Wild Ones of Henley, a nature-based “stay and play” session when childcare settings were closed during the coronavirus lockdowns.

She spent a lot of time with her two children, Scout, four, and Bodhi, one, in their garden in Blandy Road, Henley, and saw how beneficial it was to them.

Mrs Wickstead’s husband Mark is a cousin of Simon Cromack, who runs the Baskerville pub in Shiplake, so she approached him with the idea of him hosting an outdoor classroom and he agreed.

With the help of her friend Hayley Stevens, she set about reinstating a kitchen allotment and transforming the pub garden into a multi-purpose space.

Mrs Wickstead said the idea was to allow children to explore the garden and the equipment on offer as well as holding some organised activities. She said: “We’re an outdoor learning environment for pre-schoolers where they can come and be free and learn through experience and adventure.

“We are not a forest school but we have a similar ethos in that we believe being outside is beneficial for their learning and creativity.

“We are a multi-purpose space where children have the opportunity to explore the garden at their own pace.

“They can choose from all the equipment in the play and kitchen gardens and there are planned activities that vary from week to week.

“We want to help parents to nurture a child’s natural love of the outdoors while introducing them to the wonders of the garden with a huge emphasis on being resourceful and responsible to the environment. We believe in the importance of outdoor learning. Children need fresh air and time for play no matter the weather.”

Mrs Wickstead, who previously ran art classes at the Watercolour Café in Henley, said the coronavirus pandemic gave her the push to pursue her idea.

She said: “When we first went into lockdown I had a two-year-old and I was six months pregnant. With childcare settings being closed, there was nowhere to go.

“We have amazing things in Henley, such as the d:two centre and the Watercolour Café, but there is no real outdoor space to learn about sustainability and recycling or about growing vegetables. There was a real call for it.

“I then approached Simon because I knew there was some unloved space at the pub. In the pub industry everyone is looking to diversify to try to bring people in and Simon liked the idea.”

Mrs Wickstead then brought in Ms Stevens, who has been a director at Montessori for almost 20 years and qualified as a forest schoolteacher 10 years ago.

She said: “Hayley brings a wealth of experience to Wild Ones and her passion for outdoor learning and huge experience make her a huge asset to the team. I call her my ‘Gardening Fairy’ while I am the wacky, creative one.

“We broke ground in January on what was a previously unloved part of the garden. Our space is in two parts. One side is the allotment, which was an existing raised bed and had not been used for several years.

“The other side was the old landlord’s private garden. It had sofas, kitchens and bathrooms in it and we cleared it using two or three skips.

“We have rescued bits and pieces and have made a bus and a boat out of pallets and other bits of equipment.

“We have even built a stream because we want the children to learn how to be around water and be able to assess risk, so they put their boats down there and can fish them out.

“I’ve drawn a big mural on the chefs’ changing room with a big red poppy on it. We have added gravel and also a ton of woodchip and created a woodland walk and an art wall which they paint and then we spray down at the end of every session.

“We also have a story-telling area and a marquee for when the weather isn’t great.”

The children are growing strawberries, tomatoes, different varieties of beans, peas, kale, cabbages, pumpkins, potatoes and wildflowers for the pub.

Mrs Wickstead said: “Everything we grow is planted seasonally and is being used in the kitchen at the pub. At the moment we are teaching the children about companion planting.

“My children both attend the Montessori school in Henley and will continue to do so as Wild Ones is a stay and play, which is not a childcare service as the parents stay with their children for the sessions.

“One of the things we ask the children to do is pick mint and make their parents mint tea. The parents or guardians stay with the children the whole time, which creates a natural way for parents to get to know new people and start friendships.”

Wild Ones of Henley runs on a Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10.15am to noon and caters for up to 15 children.

Mrs Wickstead said: “Our sessions are one hour and 45 minutes long to allow enough time for the children to explore the garden at their own pace and follow their own interests without being rushed.

“The start times are scheduled around the train timetable to encourage people to get the train rather than use their cars.

“We will be open throughout the year, including the school holidays.”

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